Any Given Sunday [1999]

Any Given Sunday, Oliver Stone's salute-cum-exposé of pro football, belabors some pretty obvious points for nigh onto three hours; but between the frenetic editing, the pounding rap-music beats, and several flashy performances, it's certainly never dull. Al Pacino, coach of the fictional Miami Sharks (the NFL declined involvement in this production), struggles with the most time-honored of sports movie dilemmas: what to do with the old friend who's past his prime and the young hotshot who could save the franchise but first has to learn what being a team player is all about. Comedian Jamie Foxx does a marvelous dramatic turn as the rookie quarterback whose ego and talent are equally impressive, while Pacino seems more at ease in Oliver Stone Land than any actor since regular James Woods (on hand as well as a sleazy team doctor). Prowling the sidelines, shouting spittle-flecked orders, seizing up in almost physical pain when a play goes the wrong way, Pacino is as unashamedly--and entertainingly--hyperbolic as Stone's whirling montages of boiling storm clouds, bloodthirsty fans, and players smashed into the mud. (Once again football, perhaps the most sophisticated of team sports, is viewed cinematically as a bunch of guys hitting each other in slow motion.) Unfortunately, all the self-conscious mythologizing and pumped-up macho posturing that Stone can muster doesn't conceal a clichéd, slapped-together script, whose few good ideas (mostly about race in America) jostle about with several hoary, terrible ones--including a too-literal analogy of football players as modern gladiators. (To drive the point home, Stone includes Charlton Heston--the aging Ben-Hur--in one of many star-powered cameos.) All in all, Any Given Sunday is never dull, but never very enjoyable, either. --Bruce Reid

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